Stoeger’s M3020 tactical shotgun is priced right and comes ready for out-of-the box home defense

by Rob Reaser

We’ll not even bother to preface this review with the tiresome 12-ga. vs. 20-ga. debate. That horse has been beaten to the point that it is no longer recognizable. And it is also downright silly. A bigger hammer is always better if you can wield it effectively. Similarly, a smaller hammer is going to hurt quite spectacularly. In short, a load of #000 buckshot or ¾ ounces of 1600 fps lead, accurately guided by a 20-gauge shotgun barrel, is going to solve whatever miscreant issues you may have in or around the homestead.

What we will reiterate (a well-worn argument though it may be) is that a 20-gauge shotgun is easier to manipulate, less intimidating, and easier to shoot for smaller-stature people. And that translates into greater confidence and efficiency of use, which we find directly correlates to proficiency. Proficiency, in this case, means accurate placement of the first shot on target on target and the ability to do the same for follow-up shots if needed.

In all this, the M3020 Defense by Stoeger Industries excels. Chambered for 2 ¾- and 3-inch 20-gauge, this inertia-driven model (#36022) is astoundingly light of weight at 5.5 pounds, lithe in handling, and, for most shooters, offers cringeless felt recoil — something slighter-build shooters will welcome.

For those who are unfamiliar with inertia-driven shotguns, this is a semi-automatic cycling system that automatically extracts, ejects, feeds, and locks into the chamber a new shotshell following each round fired. This is the same cycle as a gas-operated system (which uses gas from the fired cartridge to actuate the bolt and initiate the cycle of operation), but instead uses recoil inertia and an inertia spring positioned in the back of the bolt body to regulate the cycle. The result is a shotgun with a less complicated action system, lighter handling, and cleaner and more consistently reliable operation when compared to most gas-operated shotguns. What’s more, inertia-driven shotguns like the M3020 work with a broad swath of shotshells and are less sensitive to load variations. If a shooter is most comfortable with a lighter load, the inertia system will likely accommodate.

The M3020 Defense accepts up to four 2 3/4 -inch shotshells in the magazine tube plus one in the chamber for five rounds onboard. You can remove the limiter plug in the end of the magazine tube to make room for two additional shells. Although the loading port is not beveled, shells insert smoothly, the carrier depresses easily, and the shells lock in front of the carrier latch with a firm nudge.

Bolt assembly operation comes via a plastic-sheathed bolt handle and an expansive bolt release button. While we favor a knurled metal bolt handle, this design offers good traction without harsh finger abrasion. The bolt release engagement surface is larger than the typical push-button found on most semi-autos. The Stoeger design we find easier to actuate with zero fumbling. Just slap the button with your palm or depress with a finger and the bolt assembly slams forward and locks into place.

Behind the trigger is a crossbolt safety. This features a large, triangular surface on the “safe” side that makes for simple and quick actuation — another benefit for a defensive arm. A prominent red ring on the “fire” side provides quick identification of the safety status.

The cartridge drop lever is forward of the trigger opening (seen here in the uncocked position). It, too, proves easy to engage. Note the spacer between the receiver and stock. The gun comes with a shim kit, allowing the shooter to adjust drop and cast for a more custom fit.

In keeping with the M3020’s defensive mission, the gun comes from the factory with an adjustable rear ghost ring sight. The ghost ring provides fast yet precise alignment with the front sight, which is ideal for close-quarter defensive use. From the shooter’s perspective, the sight appears as a large, blurred ring that quickly centers around the front sight, and it is our favorite sight setup for a tactical shotgun. Robust shrouding on the sides prevent damage to the ghost ring from inadvertent bumps and drops.

Equally protected is the fixed front sight. This is a fiber-optic sight that we found really stands out in full sunlight and in dim lighting conditions.

Should you prefer to run the shotgun with a red dot optic, the M3020 comes with an installed Picatinny rail.

Takedown of the M3020 is made easy with the serrated magazine cap. This tapered design with deep, crisp serrations offers a solid grip and requires no tools.

The shotgun breaks down to its essential components with no tools needed. The only tool necessary for removal of the trigger group and bolt disassembly is a drive pin punch. Cleanup, as you can see, is straightforward with this design.

For our testing, we limited ourselves to defensive loads only. These included Winchester 2 ¾-inch #000 buckshot and Federal 3-inch ¾-oz. rifled slugs. The M3020 ran flawlessly and delivered its payload exactly where intended (note the wad impacting the target). With the 20-guage’s minor recoil, sight realignment proved quick — another key advantage in a defensive gun. Given its minimum-size 18.5-inch barrel, inertia-driven action (which allows for a lighter front end to shift weight rearward), and 5.5-lb overall weight, this gun presents almost effortless handling — perfect for moving through the confines of a house.

MSRP for the Stoeger M3020 Defense is $619, although we’ve seen online retail prices running at $579. Either way, this is a shotgun that is affordable, and is able to be handled by any trained firearm member of your family for defense of life and property.

Stoeger M3020 Defensive Shotgun Specifications

  • Model: #36022
  • Chamber: 20-guage
  • Chamber Length: 2 ¾- and 3-inch
  • Action: semi-auto, inertia-driven
  • Shotshell Capacity: 4+1
  • Barrel Length: 18.5 in.
  • Choke: fixed cylinder bore
  • Stock/Forend: black synthetic
  • Sight System: adj. ghost ring rear, fiber-optic front
  • Optic Compatible: yes (factory Picatinny rail)
  • Overall Length: 40.75 in.
  • Weight: 5.5 lbs.

Shoot On Editor-in-Chief Rob Reaser is a lifelong outdoorsman, former magazine editor, columnist, and contributing editor to numerous national publications in the automotive and outdoor segments. He has also authored and co-authored several DIY gun building books. His shooting and hunting passions cover everything from traditional archery and big-game bowhunting to the latest in handguns, rifles, and reloading. Rob has a troublesome habit of pulling guns and things apart to see how they work; occasionally, he manages to get them back together...

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